The Leg Press Machine Was Dorian Yates’ Favorite Exercise for Building Massive Legs

45 deg leg press machine Dorian Yates
Image via Instagram @thedorianyates

“The Shadow” says the leg press machine trumps the squats for leg development. 

If there’s one bodybuilder known for having a monstrous lower body – but most notably known for his barn door back – it’s Dorian Yates. The British bodybuilder with six Mr. Olympia titles can be credited to the particular exercise selection that enabled him to achieve an impressive frame with huge legs. The leg press machine was one of the main exercises he relied on for developing massive quads. This article investigates insight from “The Shadow” and reveals to Generation Iron why he prefers the leg press machine (and hack squat) over barbell squats. 

Generation Iron detailed some exclusive content of Dorian Yates coaching an athlete through the leg press machine. Watch it below:

For a good reason, Dorian Yates was among the most iconic bodybuilders in the ’90s. Despite his 5’10” frame, Yates stood tall beside the six-foot-plus bodybuilders. He surprised his competitors with his physique when showtime came. The Shadow wore a blue track jumpsuit he coined “The TARDIS.”

This tracksuit was a mirage for his contenders, making him appear much smaller than he was. What laid beneath this suit was raw muscle Yates had built up over the off-season. He never wanted to show off his guns until moments before walking on stage, completely flabbergasting his competitors.


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Below we’ll dive into precisely one of the exercises Yates made a staple in his leg routine – and why he prefers the leg press machine (and hack squat and smith machine squat) over the free weight squat alternative.

Dorian Yates Prefers the Leg Press Machine Over Squats

The overall consensus in the fitness community is that the squat is the absolute king of exercises. It works multiple muscle groups and is a great pushing exercise that develops the legs, back, and stomach and provides functional strength. The claim of being the greatest is arguable, considering that the deadlift is also pretty great at developing multiple muscle groups, particularly the posterior chain.

Nevertheless, the squat is a great exercise for those looking to build up their lower half. But the notion that the squat is the absolute best exercise for leg development may be a bit dubious.

There’s no doubt that genetics plays an obvious role in every bodybuilder’s potential for muscle development and growth. A person’s genetics may also greatly impact how a particular exercise affects muscle growth. While many bodybuilders may swear by the squat, others believe squats do little for their leg development.

Much like some bodybuilders advocate dumbbell flyes over the bench press for chest development, many believe the leg press can do more for your leg muscles than the squat. One such advocate of the leg press machine is the bodybuilding great Dorian Yates.

The six-time Mr. Olympia was known for having a particularly large frame compared to many bodybuilders, the highlight of his physique was his well-built back. As for Yates’ leg development, the bodybuilder has had experience doing regular squats and attributes much of his early leg development to the king of exercises. But like other experienced bodybuilders, Yates experimented with other methods of putting on muscle for his legs.

He has stated that the hack squat, Smith machine squat, and the leg press machine improved his leg development far more than doing heavy free-weight squats with a barbell. It’s a pretty big claim, but we’re sure that Yates researched before eventually coming to his conclusion. In an interview with, Yates said:

“I would always pre-exhaust before I got onto the compound exercises, but I did leg press, and hack squatting, or squatting on a Smith machine instead of going to squats. And I found I got much better development from these exercises than from just heavy squatting. It depends a lot on your structure, but it (the squat) didn’t suit me. So hack squats, leg presses and pre-exhaustion with leg extensions.”

Smith Machine squat

Leg Press Machine Vs. Squats 

The leg press machine is a popular exercise machine to strengthen the lower body. It allows you to use heavy weight to target the large muscles in your legs without putting your back at risk, as a squat may have you. In addition, it allows you to control the weight you’re moving much easier.

The leg press machine takes out the stability muscles the squats require. Therefore, it places more tension on the leg muscles. Furthermore, because it’s less physically demanding than squats, the leg press is an ideal choice for those who are just starting or have physical limitations that prevent them from doing a full squat. If performed incorrectly, the barbell squat can place excess stress on your knees and back.

While squats are great for developing strength in the lower body, they don’t provide as much flexibility as a leg press machine. With a leg press machine, you can vary your foot positioning to target different muscles and customize your routine accordingly. For example, you can do a narrow stance leg press to target the quads more, which wouldn’t be safe to try with the barbell squat due to its required stability. Additionally, using a leg press machine takes stress off your joints and spine while providing an effective leg workout.


It begs the question, is the squat the best for improving the muscle growth in your legs? We’d venture to say that the squat is still the best for the legs, especially for those beginning their development. It provides overall strength and gets the legs started for greater improvement.

Ultimately, every person is different, and their bodies can be stimulated differently. Experimentation with other methods will give each person the answer as to which exercise works best for their body.

In comparison to squats, the leg press machine provides several key benefits. Firstly, it puts less strain on your back since you’re seated while performing the movement. Secondly, because the weight stack is adjustable in small increments (if you opt for the machine rather than the sled leg press), it’s easier to increase strength gradually than with free weights like dumbbells or barbells. Finally, this machine reduces the risk of injury since it’s performed on a machine and keeps you balanced.

The leg press machine is an effective and safe way to strengthen and tone your lower body muscles, making it a great choice for beginners or those with physical limitations. It was a major part of The Shadow’s bodybuilding success. So why not try them and see how they affect your leg growth?

Do you perform squats or leg presses for your leg development? Tell us your thoughts on social media, and follow Generation Iron on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.